|Part of the Politics series
Democracy indices are quantitative and comparative assessments of the state of democracy for different countries according to various definitions of democracy.
The democracies indices differ in whether they are categorical, such as classifying countries into democracies, hybrid regimes, and autocracies, or continuous values. The qualitative nature of democracy indices enables data analytical approaches for studying causal mechanisms of regime transformation processes.
Democracy indices differ in scope and weighting of different aspects of democracy, including the breadth of core democratic institutions, competitiveness and inclusiveness of polyarchy, freedom of expression, various aspects of governance, democratic norm transgressions, co-option of opposition, electoral system manipulation, electoral fraud, and popular support of anti-democratic alternatives.
Other measured aspects of democracy include voter turnout, efficiency gap, wasted vote, and political efficacy.
Further information: Democratic backsliding by country
Because democracy is an overarching concept that includes the functioning of diverse institutions which are not easy to measure, limitations exist in quantifying and econometrically measuring the potential effects of democracy or its relationship with other phenomena—whether inequality, poverty, education etc. Given the constraints in acquiring reliable data with within-country variations on aspects of democracy, academics have largely studied cross-country variations, yet variations in democratic institutions can be large within countries. Another way of conceiving the difficulties in measuring democracy is through the debate between minimalist versus maximalist definitions of democracy. A minimalist conception of democracy defines democracy by primarily considering the essence of democracy; such as electoral procedures. A maximalist definition of democracy can include outcomes, such as economic or administrative efficiency, into measures of democracy. Some aspects of democracy, such as responsiveness or accountability, are generally not included in democracy indices due to the difficulty measuring these aspects. Other aspects, such as judicial independence or quality of the electoral system, are included in some democracy indices but not in others.
Some measures of democracy, notably Freedom House and Polity IV, deploy a maximalist understanding of democracy by analyzing indicators that go beyond electoral procedure. These measures attempt to gauge contestation and inclusion; two features Robert Dahl argued are essential in democracies that successfully promote accountable governments. The democratic rating given by these mainstream measures can vary greatly depending on the indicators and evidence they deploy. The definition of democracy utilized by these measures is important because of the discouraging and alienating power such ratings can have, particularly when determined by indicators which are biased toward Western democracies.
Dieter Fuchs and Edeltraud Roller suggest that, in order to truly measure the quality of democracy, objective measurements need to be complemented by "subjective measurements based on the perspective of citizens". Similarly, Quinton Mayne and Brigitte Geißel also defend that the quality of democracy does not depend exclusively on the performance of institutions, but also on the citizens' own dispositions and commitment.
Data on democracy, and particularly global indices of democracy, have been scrutinized and criticized by various scholars. Gerardo L. Munck and Jay Verkuilen questioned various aspects of the data produced by Freedom House and Polity, such as the concept of democracy they measured, the design of indicators, and the aggregation rule. Political scientists Andrew T. Little and Anne Meng "highlight measurement concerns regarding time-varying bias in expert-coded data" such as Freedom House and V-Dem and encourage improving expert-coding practices. Knutsen et al. didn't see evidence for time-varying bias in their expert-coded data and note the application of item response theory, factor analysis and estimates of uncertainties to limit expert biases while discussing concerns in operationalization of observer-invariant measures of democracy.